Having lived with Environmental Illness and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity for 10 years now, I have dug deeply into the research. There are many heartbreaking stories behind the science, and I hope to be able to tell a few of my own, and perhaps interview others. Many with these conditions become homeless, as no home is safe unless built with these challenges in mind. Each of us seems to have different triggers and often different symptoms with exposure.
I’ve been sick this semester with a chronic condition that I have to constantly manage, Environmental Illness (EI). It is like walking through a mine field for me to enter a group of people these days. So, I mostly manage to get to classes and back home, and take short runs for groceries and gas. Working with clients in my home is a crap shoot, as someone can walk in wearing perfume or cologne, and suddenly, I’m in a major reaction. The triggers I’m dealing with right now are tobacco and perfumes, as well as deodorizers, cleaners, laundry detergents, dryer sheets and pesticides ~ basically anything that is a petroleum based product. I have never been allergic to anything in the natural world, even pollens. Wait – I do get an itchy rash if I handle alfalfa hay.
It was such a gift to have a friend out from school on Saturday. We had a lovely meal, and then drove out to the barn. It was cold and snowy, but I introduced him around to my horse friends and we walked through the barns. This fabulous young man understands the struggles I have with chemical sensitivities and feels like a ‘safe’ person to me, because he is willing to be conscientious about what he puts on his body when he plans to see me. I appreciate this more than I can ever express, as most people seem to think it’s my problem, not theirs – which is true. However, the more I can educate about the toxicity of the products we use, the better off we will all be, as we move away from the things that are making some of us sick.
I find it interesting that those of us with this condition are referred to as ‘Canaries in the Coal Mine.’ The phrase “canary in a coal mine” is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis. By analogy, the term climate canary is used to refer to a species that is affected by an environmental danger prior to other species, thus serving as an early warning system for the other species with regard to the danger.
Because of heavy DDT exposure in my youth, and a prolonged exposure to mold over a nine-month period of time in 2006 – ’07, this is now my life. I believe that everyone has a toxic tipping point, and the sooner we all stop using all the toxic products that we can avoid, the easier it is for our systems to handle the toxins we cannot avoid, in our water, food and air.